POLICE are planning to shed 2,000 support staff to meet budget cuts and prepare for a single Scottish force, in a move which has sparked fears of a depleted front line, with officers carrying out civilian roles.
The proposals have angered Unison, the public sector union, which called them “criminally wasteful, poorly thought-out and highly provocative”.
The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) and the Scottish Government are determined to maintain the 1,000 extra police officers placed on the streets, which has seen crime drop to a 35-year low.
But it is feared some of those officers may be pulled off current duties to take on roles normally carried out by civilians.
Peter Veldon, regional organiser for Unison’s Scottish police staff, said: “Scotland’s police chiefs propose to meet budget constraints imposed by the Scottish Government almost entirely by cutting 2,000 support staff – even though 1,000 posts have already been cut in the last year.
“They plan an immediate budget cut of £6.5 million in the coming financial year, even before the new Scotland-wide police service begins.”
Unison warned the proposed cuts would be a retrograde step.
Dave Watson, head of bargaining and campaigns in Scotland, said: “Cutting 2,000 police staff would take policing in Scotland back to the 1970s.”
Referring to the TV drama that sent a modern-day detective back to work as a police officer in the 1970s, he said: “It would be like Life on Mars – but in fact, not in fiction.
“Unison has consistently warned of the danger of cutting police staff. It makes no economic or policing sense – it simply means that important support and expert jobs are increasingly done by police officers.”
Unison is sceptical about the Scottish Government’s pledge of no compulsory redundancies.
“I would not rule out industrial action,” Mr Watson said. “We are not at that stage yet. The Scottish Government has promised no compulsory redundancies, but how you achieve this without them is not easy to say.”
Scottish Labour’s community safety spokeswoman Jenny Marra urged the Scottish Government not to undervalue support staff.
“What the SNP must realise is that cutting police support staff is a false economy,” she said.
“We all want to see more police officers in Scotland, but they should be out on the beat, not stuck behind a desk doing jobs previously done by specialist support staff who have been sacked by the SNP.
“Scottish Labour is calling for the SNP government to conduct an independent audit of how many police officers have been taken off the beat as result of SNP cuts.”
However, the Scottish Government and Acpos defended the proposals. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “A single service will strip costly and unnecessary duplication out of the current eight-force structure.
“Reform of the police service will mean doing things differently – working more effectively and efficiently, delivering estimated savings of £1.4 billion over 15 years. Cutting out duplication including HR, finance and procurement will save over £40m a year.”
Chief Constable Kevin Smith, leading the transition to the Police Service of Scotland, added: “The reality is that with over 80 per cent of the police budget spent on employee related costs, and a commitment to maintain police officer numbers, it is inevitable that we will see a reduction in the number of police staff. We are looking at every aspect of policing to drive out savings before we consider staff cuts. We are determined not to bring police officers off the street to fill police staff roles.”